Here, Denise Quesnel, co-chair of SIGGRAPH 2015’s VR Village, talks with CGW Chief Editor Karen Moltenbrey about the current state of the technology as represented at the conference venue, as well as how VR and AR technology have matured and evolved in general.
Tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved in VR.
I work in Vancouver, Canada, as a researcher with a focus on the immersive realities at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. My specialty is in R&D and figuring out solutions to common technical problems in the creative and entertainment industries. I’ve been involved in stereoscopic and 360-degree imagery for about six years now as my mainstay, with VR becoming the most common application of those techniques over the past few years.
Who came up with the idea for VR Village?
VR Village was the brainchild of SIGGRAPH 2015 Conference Chair Marc Barr and ACM SIGGRAPH President Jeff Jortner, along with my VR Village co-chair, Ed Lantz. In the autumn of 2014, I was appointed Immersive Imaging Liaison for the 2016 conference, where VR is intended to be part of a strong focus. In December 2014, I was contacted by Marc to see if I would like to work with Ed in creating VR Village as early as 2015, and of course, I couldn’t refuse!
How did you get involved?
Marc had a feeling that VR would be a huge focus for 2015, and he ensured that Ed and I were supported with a strong team for the show. I had been organizing VR- and immersive-themed events since 2011 in the form of meetups, classes, large conferences, and festivals, originally because I wanted there to be a place for those working in immersive realities to connect and be inspired. There was a shortage of events and opportunities to try out VR in public, so I worked closely with Canadian, American, and international organizations to problem-solve this issue. SIGGRAPH was the most natural place to put my energy, so in 2015 I refocused most of my efforts into SIGGRAPH. It has been a fantastic journey with this organization.
Why was the timing right to introduce VR Village at SIGGRAPH?
SIGGRAPH 2014 in Vancouver had a lot of what we call Birds of Feather VR events. Events in this program can be proposed and organized by anyone, with SIGGRAPH as the host. There was an unprecedented volume of VR themes in the program, and attendees were filling every inch of the room! It was clear that attendees needed more VR events, and with the VR community showing potential in doubling in size in 2015, I knew we had to create some exciting opportunities to fill this need.
A big reveal of several VR technologies and products happened in early 2015 that went on to be game changers: the ability for the Samsung Gear VR to be completely wireless allowed for what we call ‘nomadic’ VR experiences to occur, where people can walk around a physical space in virtual environments. Also in 2015, SteamVR launched, along with Valve and HTC Vive. This system has now landed in the hands of many talented developers. Sony has demonstrated that console VR is ready with Project Morpheus, and Oculus continues to turn out tech and fantastic content. Because of the accessibility of new hardware and software, people are now making a vast quantity of VR.
Did you have a difficult time finding participants?
Finding participants to contribute to VR Village with their content was absolutely no problem for us. We utilized key meetup organizations such as SVVR, UploadVR, and VRLA to conduct reconnaissance on emerging content creators who would like to participate. Ed curated Fulldome content with IMERSA from a variety of programs. We utilized the Immersive Realities AR/VR contest, which is part of the SIGGRAPH Real-Time Live program, to curate content.
I focused my energy on bringing in as much international content as possible. We had more participants than space, so we utilized a rotating schedule where content changed daily. This meant that by not demonstrating each day for several days in a row, we didn’t exhaust contributors, and attendees saw something new every day.
How many VR participants were there?
VR Village had 74 independent presenters registered, which included 51 sit-down/stand-up head-mounted display (HMD) experiences, six of which were wirelessly untethered using the Nomadic Arena and one using an automobile [the Ford application]. There were 26 full-dome pieces with nearly four hours of content, including four Art reels and one SciVis reel.
In addition, there were four panelists in VR Village Talks with a moderator, and nine presentations in the dome on ‘the making of’ immersive content.
For you, which applications stood out?
Personally for me, the standouts were the experiences that took collaboration and embodiment to a new previously unseen level. Before 2015, it was incredibly difficult to create ‘nomadic’ VR where participants could not only move physically in VR, but also be together in the same space. We had several contributors, notably the ‘Real Virtuality’ experience by Artanim Interactive, ‘Holojam’ by Dr. Ken Perlin and his students at NYU, ‘C.a.p.e’ by CREW_ EricJoris, ‘Can You Walk the Walk’ with Create Advertising Agency and PlayStation’s Magic Lab, ‘Mighty Morphenaut’ by PlayStation’s Magic Lab, ‘Project Syria’ by Emblematic Group’s Nonny de la Pena, and so many more. The consideration of embodiment in the application of VR for practical and entertainment use is so key, and it was really prominent in VR Village.
Which was the most unique VR or AR experience on display and why is that?
It is so hard to pick the most unique overall, because in their own way, each experience was chosen due to its uniqueness. I feel as though the DreamWorks ‘Dragon Flight VR’ experience was incredibly unique in that they managed to process over 600 attendees in a single day. That kind of throughput in VR is extraordinary. The ‘VR Crash Test’ by Australia’s Digital Arts Network and Fin Design was unique in that it utilized a real car on the floor, that people would get inside and experience a car crash from two very different eras. Also very unique was the volume of experiences that blended VR with augmented reality (AR). Many did so in a practical, beautiful way, and it was brilliant to see it work so well.
What was the goal of VR Village?
VR Village’s primary goal was to showcase the best in VR content from around the world. Its second goal was to establish SIGGRAPH as a must-see destination for VR. It may be a surprising factoid to learn that SIGGRAPH has been the place to try out and become educated on all things VR since 1991. This year, we aimed to bring a whole new level of interactivity to the event and get even more people inspired about VR than the year before.
Can you give us a little taste of what’s in store for next year’s SIGGRAPH?
We have big plans for 2016, and I can mention that interactivity will once again be a main focus at the conference. There is no intention to let VR fade into the background, and SIGGRAPH 2016 will see VR in pretty much every area of the conference! I encourage anyone interested in participating in SIGGRAPH 2016 to check the website (http://s2016.siggraph.org) where there is a Call for Submissions and program details. There will be a lot of different opportunities for VR at the conference, including but not limited to Courses, Talks, Panels, interactive areas, and technology demonstrations.